NERC Predicts Sufficient Electric Capacity for Winter

A person walks down an empty snow-covered street during a snow storm

In its “2020-2021 Winter Reliability Assessment,” the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), Atlanta, predicts that there will be sufficient resource capacity in place across North America to meet winter demand. NERC added, however, that extreme weather can challenge grid reliability. As a result, the assessment report examines these possibilities and identifies the areas that pose higher risk, such as areas that are susceptible to emergency operating actions.

According to the report, “During extreme and prolonged winter conditions, vital natural gas fuel supplies for electricity generation can be at risk in New England, California, and the southwestern United States. High reliance on natural gas-fired generation and limited natural gas infrastructure elevates reliability risk in these areas.”

For the report, NERC analyzed severe weather scenarios that incorporated generation outages under peak load conditions. It noted particular reliability risks in areas within the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Carmel, Ind.; the Canadian Maritimes; Texas; the Rocky Mountain Reserve Sharing Group; and the Northwest Power Pool Reserve Sharing Group.

“Winter conditions challenge grid operators in many parts of North America,” said Mark Olson, manager of reliability assessments for NERC. “Our assessment looks at expected peak demand and the ability of the area resource mix to provide that demand under harsh winter conditions.”

Overall, according to Olson, the industry takes winter reliability risks very seriously.

“Our extreme weather scenarios help stakeholders prepare for situations where winter conditions threaten resource adequacy, potentially forcing grid operators into emergency actions like demand curtailment,” he said.

The report also addresses issues surrounding COVID-19, and noted that as the pandemic continues, NERC has a priority focus on protecting the workforce, including system and power plant operators.

Overall, the report identifies five key findings:

  • Sufficient capacity resources are expected to be in service.
  • Fuel and energy assurance risk remains a reliability concern.
  • Extreme weather continues to pose a risk to bulk power system reliability.
  • The ongoing pandemic is causing increased uncertainty in electricity demand projections and presents cybersecurity and operating risks.

Post-2020 hurricane season restoration efforts may continue in hard-hit areas along the Gulf Coast where storm damage has degraded the transmission system that supplies local areas.

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